1. TechSpot is dedicated to computer enthusiasts and power users. Ask a question and give support. Join the community here.
    TechSpot is dedicated to computer enthusiasts and power users.
    Ask a question and give support.
    Join the community here, it only takes a minute.
    Dismiss Notice

Dogs are more intelligent than cats, neuron-counting study concludes

By Shawn Knight · 26 replies
Nov 30, 2017
Post New Reply
  1. New research in the long-running debate regarding the intellectual superiority between canines and felines suggests it is man’s best friend that reigns supreme.

    Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, developed a method for accurately measuring the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of the brain. Neurons are the “little grey cells” that are associated with things like planning, thinking and complex behavior.

    The general consensus is that a higher neuron count translates to higher levels of intelligence.

    In the study, researchers compared different species of mammals to see how the number of neurons in their brains related to the size of their brains. What they found is that dogs have around 530 million cortical neurons in their brains versus just 250 million for cats (for comparison, humans have around 16 billion).

    Herculano-Houzel said she believes the number of neurons an animal has in the cerebral cortex determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience.

    The findings, she said, tell her that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.

    In other words, dogs are smarter than cats.

    I’m a cat lover at heart but will be the first to admit that canines are generally more intelligent than felines. The things that you can train a dog to do are pretty incredible. Cats? You’re lucky if they respond at all to your voice.

    Those interested in learning more are encouraged to check out the results of the study in a paper titled, “Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species” in the open access journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Vulcanproject

    Vulcanproject TS Guru Posts: 447   +492

    "Herculano-Houzel said she believes the number of neurons an animal has in the cerebral cortex determines the richness of their internal mental state"

    She will also probably admit that we don't really know if this is a good measure of intelligence, it's maybe a guide or an estimate at best.

    I like to think based off my own personal observations that intelligence of animals varies wildly even within the same species. Hey, human intelligence is a bell curve after all.

    I have had lots of cats over many many decades. Some blatantly stupid, many average and noticeably the odd one with apparent genius level cat intelligence. He was a bona fide Einstein of the domestic cat world. A towering Felis catus intellect.

    I would pit him against your average dog any day of the week lol
  3. Nobina

    Nobina TS Evangelist Posts: 1,583   +1,036

    At least it's not politics.
  4. Oshyan

    Oshyan TS Enthusiast Posts: 19   +26

    Meh. Where those neurons are located and how closely they are packed, not to mention their degree of interconnectedness all matters at least as much if not more, as far as we know.

    "Cats have much smaller brains (25 g) than dogs (74 g), but a much higher NPD [Neuron Packing Density], and they therefore have almost twice as many cortical neurons (300 million) as dogs (160 million)."

    "the African elephant brain had more neurons than the human brain. And not just a few more: a full three times the number of neurons, 257 billion to our 86 billion neurons. But—and this was a huge, immense “but”—a whopping 98 percent of those neurons were located in the cerebellum, at the back of the brain. In every other mammal we had examined so far, the cerebellum concentrated most of the brain neurons, but never much more than 80 percent of them. The exceptional distribution of neurons within the elephant brain left a relatively meager 5.6 billion neurons in the whole cerebral cortex itself. Despite the size of the African elephant cerebral cortex, the 5.6 billion neurons in it paled in comparison to the average 16 billion neurons concentrated in the much smaller human cerebral cortex."

    "Luckily, there is much more to a brain when you look at it under a microscope, and most neuroscientists now believe that the complexity of cellular and molecular organization of neural connections, or synapses, is what truly determines a brain’s computational capacity. This view is supported by findings that intelligence is more correlated with frontal lobe volume and volume of gray matter, which is dense in neural cell bodies and synapses, than sheer brain size...So, although having a big brain is somewhat predictive of having big smarts, intelligence probably depends much more on how efficiently different parts of your brain communicate with each other."
    amstech, Agnomen, fadingfool and 2 others like this.
  5. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus Stone age computing. Posts: 3,565   +950

    Basically, I'm a people person with a few dogs & cats in the background which I enjoyed knowing.
  6. Danny101

    Danny101 TS Maniac Posts: 471   +172

    As a caveat, just like any species including our own, there are dumb-asses and there are smart-asses. I've seen stupid dogs and smart cats.
  7. Really? Try this, throw a ball across the yard and see what happens with a cat watching, and then a dog. The cat will look at you and say, that was a stupid thing to do, and you will have to go find that ball you threw away. On the other hand the dog retrieves the ball, only to have you once again simply throw it away.

    And true, as man's best friend a dog is loyal, brave and simply fine company all around. I like cats and dogs.

    As for intelligence, a cats brain is closer to that of a human than is a dog, so it is perhaps one of those comparisons in which someone may have it all wrong. A bulldozer has great power, but a Porsche is a tad faster. A dog certainly can learn skills. A cat may be otherwise the smarter -- smarter than we know. Or perhaps it is just me, observing how closely they are to humans. And the dog, oh yes, how you wish humans were at times.
  8. TrexAverell

    TrexAverell TS Booster Posts: 45   +32

    I have a more simple way of thinking :

    - Jedi & Sith = Dogs & Cats
  9. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,848   +3,251

    Quote by & @Shawn Knight

    "I’m a cat lover at heart but will be the first to admit that canines are generally more intelligent than felines. The things that you can train a dog to do are pretty incredible. Cats? You’re lucky if they respond at all to your voice".

    This point of view is mostly predicated on confusing, "obedience", with, "intelligence".

    There's an old saw which goes, "dogs have masters, cats have staff". So yeah, they know their name, but it depends on their mood, as to whether or not they feel like answering to it.

    Dogs, because of their size, and the fact they are pack animals, (that's Canis lupus familaris a sub species of Canis Lupus lupus, the timber wolf), have more utility to humans, and hence have been domesticated long before "Felis sylvestris catus". Figure it out, which is a bigger problem, other species of canidae making off with your flock of sheep, or mice in the barn?

    Animals are trained by taking advantage of their natural behaviors. So, the wolf pack surrounds and kills sheep, with that behavior modified just a bit, the dog surrounds the sheep and protects them.

    Thus, cats are still closer to wild. They probably stand a much better chance of survival than Fido would, if you elect to kick them out of your house.

    With those things said, the domestication of cats is sort of impractical. For example, the Canada lynx' favorite prey, is the snowshoe hare. If your home or farm isn't overrun with that particular brand of rabbit, (very few to none are), who needs Lynx canadensis. And then there's the issue of trying to litter train a Bengal tiger in a one bedroom apartment. I've seen with my own eyes a male lion generate a urine stream perhaps 10 feet long..Could a tiger be capable of less? I think not

    As far as brain size and neurons go, Neanderthal man, had a larger brain cavity than we do. However, brain cells eat nutrient like nobody's business, and as a result, it is believed Neanderthal man required a much higher intake of protein than we do.

    In any event, putting the intelligence issue aside, there is no doubt that dogs and humans, have probably the strongest inter species symbiotic and emotional bonds on the planet. That the dog is, "man's best friend", (or "a man's best friend"), is a stone cold fact, not a simple platitude.

    If you've never seen the Nova episode I'm about to link "Dogs Decoded", take 47 minutes and enjoy the most fascinating animal documentary I believe you'll ever encounter:

    BTW, the foregoing was written by a cat lover as well.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  10. fadingfool

    fadingfool TS Booster Posts: 79   +85

    "The general consensus is that a higher neuron count translates to higher levels of intelligence."

    That the above is clearly nonsense didn't seem to stop them in their research or that the conclusion was clearly ridiculous based on behavioral evidence and prior studies. I suspect both dogs and cats are more intelligent than the researchers of this bean counting paper.
  11. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,848   +3,251

    @fadingfool To a great degree, "man has created dog in his own image". Their ability to understand our moods, exceeds that of our fellow humans. Wolves have had many more opportunities to interact peacefully with humans than have cats, and have chosen to do so. And as punishment for their lapse of good judgment, man turned them into dogs. (But better to be dog than a fur coat, I suppose).

    The difference between a small cat and a pack of wolves, is wolves aren't particularly afraid of humans. So, your house cat isn't about to fight off a burglar, while your German Sheppard most likely will Most people would say that denotes higher intelligence in the dog. I say if the animal acts at you behest, and for your convenience, people will assume that makes it smarter, which IMO is a fallacy, or at very least, an over generalization.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  12. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,951   +1,323

    She didn't even mention African Greys so I'm discrediting her. ;P
  13. amstech

    amstech IT Overlord Posts: 1,964   +1,142

    This study and its conclusion of cortical neurons doesn't prove if one is smarter then the other. By nature cats are much more self-sustaining and don't require as much guidance to survive, this does not make them unteachable or less intelligent... they just don't care to be directed.
    Dogs are bred from wolves and naturally follow a pack leader, stick up for their family and take care of each other, attributes found in many mammals and ones that correlate with human lives better.
  14. CBTex

    CBTex TS Booster Posts: 41   +68

    Kind of a gross over simplification of intelligence.

    Cats and dogs are intelligent in different ways. I've seen my cat lay in wait while hunting for a very long time, almost as if he is waiting until the statistical odds of success are just perfect.

    On the other hands, a dog's ability to understand human emotion and body language exceeds that of many other humans. I saw a documentary once that showed a puppy's ability to understand human hand gestures was orders of magnitude higher than even chimpanzees.

    As far as doing stuff humans considered dumb, they both do it. My cat will paw at a fake mouse attached to a string just as much as my dog will retrieve a ball. And they both follow a laser pointer. I'm not sure it really is dumb though. While it seems juvenile that my dog will retrieve a ball just to have me throw it again, he enjoys it thoroughly. Is anything that brings one shear joy really dumb?

    I find both species to be impressive in their own right. Heck, they have both managed to get humans to provide them free food, shelter, grooming and medical care for not much in return besides companionship. Pretty ingenuous if you ask me.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
    ghostf1re, amstech and Kibaruk like this.
  15. Axle Grease

    Axle Grease TS Booster Posts: 116   +40

    Well, since you ask, Shawn... I prefer cats, but I'll have whatever is on the menu.
  16. ghostf1re

    ghostf1re TS Maniac Posts: 285   +154

    I completely agree.
  17. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,528   +544

    My cats and my dogs love me. What more matters?
  18. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,528   +544

    Dumb ***
  19. LeroN

    LeroN TS Enthusiast Posts: 62   +22

    Maybe cats have less neurons than dogs but their neurons are working much faster.
  20. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,848   +3,251

    I'm guessing you haven't been to the poorer parts of the orient recently.:eek::D
  21. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,528   +544

    The only place I would go is Israel. Maybe Wales but that would be it
  22. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 2,923   +1,433

    It is a bit simpler than that.

    As you know, canids are pack animals by nature. They follow an alpha - omega power structure within the pack. Once a human truly understands that and understands how to become the "alpha" canid, then the canid will obey the human as if the human was a member of the pack.

    Thus, when the dog fights off the burglar, it is protecting its den as a member of the pack. But if you are the burglar and you feed the dog, then the dog will assume that you are a member of the pack. It is not just something seen in a movie, it is simply the dog reverting to pack behavior because that happens in the wild - that is, members of the pack will feed each other.

    I saw some absolutely fascinating video of a researcher working with wolves. The researcher managed to "capture" three adult wolves. The fascinating part of this was that those three wolves were unrestrained and simply sat with the humans after being captured. IIRC, this video footage was in a Discovery Channel video from 1997 called "Wolves at our Door" - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00005BIG0/?tag=httpwwwtechsp-20 I found it a fascinating documentary, and you may, too.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  23. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,848   +3,251

    Well, it is and it isn't. One spectacular event constructed by wildlife professionals does not an axiom make. Nor an event repeatable by members of the general public.

    I do agree that desired animal behavior is obtained by taking advantage of their instinctive behaviors, and adapting them to human needs.

    Animals behavior is affected by both of nature and nurture in a process similar to humans.And while they can't do calculus, they do have a social structure based on instinct and childhood learning

    Very true, but the process by which wolves became dogs is a lot closer to my description of events, than your one isolated incident would suggest. Arguably, there is a genetic component involved with the domestication process. You've probably read about Siberian "tame" foxes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domesticated_red_fox While the foxes are quite tame, they still aren't quite housebroken, 50 generations in. Still, these experiments are being conducted by experts in animal breeding, not the guy down the street inbreeding his unsocialized, pit bulls. Yet the guy down the street's approach, is likely closer to the path by which man and dog originally bonded.

    And really, if you don't think turning an animal as regal and elegant as a timber wolf into a pug, isn't a punishment for befriending man, I don't know what is. :D

    I'd argue if you were present as the alpha, the dog would attack, and not stop for a bite. (*) Although, you simply can't neglect properly socializing a guard dog which is expected to do double duty as a household pet. Otherwise, the cat and the kids are liable to be confused with a meal on the hoof.

    I'll scan YouTube for it. I let Amazon hijack me with their garbage, runs at startup, DRM loaded video software, once in the past, and they won't fool me twice.

    An interesting fact is, that it is claimed that even when hand raised, a wolf grows up to be a wolf, not a dog. They're allegedly rowdy, stubborn and uncontrollable. Yet the same claim is made for members of the Spitz group, but to a lesser extent.

    An American breeder is working on creating a dog to appear as the extinct dire wolf. They've been encumbered with the name "American Alsatian Shepalute". While he's trying to breed the appearance characteristics of the wolf into them, he is concurrently trying to breed the work ethic out of them. As you can well imagine, I can infer a lot of human social context into that particular goal.

    For whatever conversational value it may have, did you know that man is the only animal whose lactase persists into adulthood?

    (*) That pun wasn't intended, but it's pretty cute, so I think I'l l pretend it was. ;)
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
  24. commanderasus

    commanderasus TS Addict Posts: 224   +95

  25. alansmith

    alansmith TS Enthusiast Posts: 32

    That's just a number that has little (if any) practical meaning.
    It's a researcher seeking publicity for a research product that doesn't give any real practical knowledge.

    A cat is more like a human when someone throws a ball- most people will look and think why did you that then NOT get the ball. Same as a person.
    A policeman will send a dog to chase a criminal with a gun, not going themselves for clear self preservation motives. That dog is not like a person, and with the same level of rigorous logic used by the researcher the cat is more like a person, it certainly wouldn't obey any command to 'attack'. It probably wouldn't do much unless the gunman was shouting or jumping up and down waving the weapon- same as a person. OK a cat wouldn't do much if it saw the person just standing there, but a person wouldn't either unless he identified the gun where he has an advantage in knowing what a gun is, but I dare say given the right teaching a cat could learn what a gun is and act like a human.

    Does this mean that the number of neurons of a dog mean that number is indicative of a robotic creature, and for us to create robot servants that's the number to aim for. That statement has as much validity as the (reasonably well paid) researcher seeking publicity for work that doesn't reveal anything very useful. Hopefully it will eventually give something that adds to our knowledge but I'll not be expecting anything for some time.

Similar Topics

Add your comment to this article

You need to be a member to leave a comment. Join thousands of tech enthusiasts and participate.
TechSpot Account You may also...